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Tilting at Windmills

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December 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY WAS THE NIE RELEASED?....PART 2....Three weeks ago DNI Mike McConnell said flatly that he didn't plan to make public any of the key findings from the upcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. Today, in a move that took everyone by surprise, the key judgments were released. Why?

Earlier today I speculated that it might have been due to congressional pressure. Spencer Ackerman doesn't think so:

An aide to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, says that Rockefeller — the obvious culprit in any Senatorial intelligence push — didn't press McConnell to release the NIE's key judgments. Rockefeller's House counterpart, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), released a statement today saying that he wants to be "fully informed about the classified sources upon which this estimate is based" and that he will "review areas where certain agencies dissent." That sounds like a man in the dark about the NIE.

Elsewhere, Joe Klein writes that he just spoke with a "senior U.S. intelligence official" who provided him with a little bit of background about the NIE's conclusion that Iran had stopped work on its nuclear bomb program four years ago:

  1. the NIE was made with a "high" degree of certainty, which means there was more than one information stream confirming it.

  2. our "collection" capability within Iran has improved considerably over the past few years.

Klein speculates that it "may be that the intelligence community was waiting for the definitive information that made this a 'high' degree of certainty estimate rather than a 'moderate' degree estimate."

Maybe. That could explain the delay, but not why McConnell changed his mind. That's still a mystery.

Kevin Drum 8:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Might it have been released to prevent an impending attack?

Posted by: Augustus on December 3, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

nekkid pitchas.

Posted by: niblets on December 3, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

but not why McConnell changed his mind. That's still a mystery.

Maybe because the Bush Administratin has decided that it wants to deal fairly and openly with the Democrats and the public in the debate about what to do about Iran.

Then again...

Posted by: tomeck on December 3, 2007 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

McConnell probably wasn't sleeping well at night contemplating being caught sitting on this report if Cheney decided he could get away with bombing Iran.

Or worse maybe McConnell knows something is going to hit the fan soon that might drive Cheney over the edge.

Posted by: markg8 on December 3, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

They've got to be at each other's throats to have this happen.

Posted by: Bob M on December 3, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe they are clashing with Israel, which begs to differ. Maybe they want to restrain Israel? Beats me.

Posted by: Bob M on December 3, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

My guess: They learned it had been leaked and decided to beat it to the punch. Don't you guys ever watch The West Wing?

Posted by: Alex Parker on December 3, 2007 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps there is a quid pro quo coming out of the Mid East talks?

Posted by: idlemind on December 3, 2007 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Look to Gates. Gates clearly is one of the few in that crowd that has any integrity, sense of history, duty or wisdom.

His petty, little bug of a man boss, George, is still attempting to control through deception, exploiting fear, and leading one of the most divisive, polarizing periods of this nation's history.


Posted by: Don on December 3, 2007 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

I think the directive came from the administration. I suspect that they feared somebody in the CIA or Congress would leak it to the press. Right now this is a bombshell, if it were a leak... well, that would be highly damaging.

Posted by: wagster on December 3, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

Not pressure from Congress; fear of Congress.


"The report was to have been completed last spring, but senior intelligence officials had said they wouldn't declassify the key judgments. Administration officials held internal discussions about whether or not to release unclassified portions of the intelligence estimate, said a State Department official familiar with the issue.

"In the end, said the official, it was decided that if the unclassified summary wasn't made public, that would increase the chances that classified parts of the document might leak. If that were to happen, the administration would be accused of suppressing intelligence that found that Iran's nuclear program wasn't as immediate a threat as the White House had suggested."

Posted by: penalcolony on December 3, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

Did Hillary know there was never going to be a real conflict with Iran when she made her hawkish statements and the vote on Kyl-Lieberman?

What did Hillary know and when did she know it?

Ptttt, forget it. I want to get past all that garbage and just vote for Edwards.

Posted by: MarkH on December 3, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

I want to get past all that garbage and just vote for Edwards.

Which you have made abundantly clear on every thread for weeks now.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on December 3, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

I have no idea what motivates this administration and the people in it. I suspect that Gates is the source and Dead Eye is the target. As Blue Girl ask this afternoon, Can We Impeach Cheney Now?

Posted by: Corpus Juris on December 3, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

I would have to go with the economy. Saving the market comes before Iran and when it comes to monetary/market power the current occupiers of the hill are minnows on a four hour tour.

Mr Howell has spoken.

Posted by: Ya Know.. on December 3, 2007 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

Even though this should be a scandal of massive proportion, it is unlikely that the Neocon sympathetic MSM will cover it honestly… Surprised and Shocked! Where are You Now Judy Miller??

However, this could have a much bigger impact than many may notice or write about. The few remaining NON-Neocon Republican supporters of Bush will evaporate and be really pissed off, joining the ranks of the other mainstream Republicans that have long ditched Bush Co and the Neocons.

You get the impression from MSM that “Republicans” support Kristol. On the contrary, most are aware that Kristol/Bush are leading them on a death March toward the 2008 Tsunami election.

Posted by: bill on December 3, 2007 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Since the release really has the effect of hanging the Israeli warmongers out to dry (since notwithstanding the three carrier groups in the Gulf nothing is going to happen Blitzkrieg-wise from Admiral Fallon now), the functional push to release the report would logically be found in an anti-Iran war, anti-Israel faction. That says Gates to me - the family custodian of the declining days of this Caesar. Someone wanted to spike the guns well and properly - and taking away the prime excuse for action seems to fit the bill. Somebody said publish it or else I will.

Given the publication, the Israelis are on their own with the Blitzkrieg concept and chances are they cannot pull it off. Because they seem no longer able to pull it off, they must apprehensively see the Iran/Syria/Hez combo getting better and more capable and the chances rising of a coordinated attack with Hamas uprisings being successful in overrunning Palestine.

Sell Israel futures; buy vacant NY slum apartment space.

Posted by: anon on December 3, 2007 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

For the love of Christ, what could Bush and/or Cheney possibly do that would spur Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to initiate impeachment proceedings? Commit mass murder on prime-time TV?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 3, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think all this speculation about Who and Why assumes this NIE is a political hot potato, with heat is generated by the coldly objective analysis contained within.

Given the politics crammed into the last NIE we were all abuzz about, why should we assume this one is different from that one?

I think this one furthers the administration's foreign policy goals, just like the last one did. Except now, instead of helping get us into Iraq, the NIE helps the Administration back down from its threats to get into it with Iran. The speculation about Cheney losing an intramural fight (and the rest of it) is a smokescreen. And plausible deniability when the Administration has to explain the shift to the Hawk constituency ("Sorry fellas. We tried but the politics are on the Defeatocrats side this time and the RINOs caved...").

In other words, this is the US' way of thanking Tehran for helping to tamp down the bloodshed in Baghdad.

Posted by: Model 62 on December 3, 2007 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

er, "which heat..."

Also idlemind suggested it above. But with more concision.

Posted by: Model 62 on December 3, 2007 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

That could explain the delay, but not why McConnell changed his mind. That's still a mystery.

One clue comes from McConnell's speech last Nov 13:

The second point is I don’t want to have a situation where the young analysts are writing something because they know it’s going to be a public debate, or political debate.
I think it was less a matter of McConnell changing his mind and more that he was waiting for the outcome; of the possible answers "yes", "no" and "maybe", "no" was the prudent choice. And as the introduction to the report states, it includes data "available as of 31 October 2007"--extremely recent.

Another clue is in the statement from Principal Deputy Directory Kerr concurrent with the release:

The Intelligence Community is on the record publicly with numerous statements based on our 2005 assessment on Iran. Since our understanding of Iran’s capabilities has changed, we felt it was important to release this information to ensure that an accurate presentation is available.
Translation: the 2005 assessment was way the hell off the mark--as are statements being made based on that assessment--and we need to set things straight, if for no other reason than if we don't, the credibility of the IC will be even further eroded.

Posted by: has407 on December 3, 2007 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

LOL -- '62 catches on, with the caveat that just maybe somebody might consider the possibility that the NIE is true, for which we all oughta make a silent prayer of gratitude.

Why DO so few folks think these things through?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 3, 2007 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

I hope to God this NIE is true but the number of caveats and lack of certainty don't make feel so sure about Iran's aspirations and abilities. Hopefully the mullahs either open up or are overthrown by the pro democratic progressive Iranians and their is some real transparency.

Thanks for the updates here Mr. Drum.

Posted by: Mark E. on December 3, 2007 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

The battle was fought and won when the IC refused to bend. If Cheney et. al. can't even find dissenting support for their positions (at least from what we can see), what are they going to do? I think they realized not releasing something would be as or more damaging than the alternatives, leaks or no leaks.

Posted by: has407 on December 3, 2007 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

anyone noticed that the oil traders knew this info.
a bit ago, about the time oil started dropping from 100 per barrel.

Posted by: steve on December 3, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

I find this remarkable. Congressional Democrats knew what was in this NIE, heard the Cheney wing of the Administration calling for war to prevent a threat they knew did not exist, they heard Bush chattering about WW III and nukes, and still didn't push to make the document showing that it was all a lie public?

Posted by: Salmo on December 3, 2007 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps at this point even Cheney and Bush have had enough and want to shut down the neocon war drumbs,and move on to close out their fucking awful tenure.

Posted by: dilbert on December 3, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Someone was going to tell before Cheney went all medivel and bombed Iran. No one with any brains at all would dare wait and then have the country find out they pulled this shit again. They would deserve to be strung up. They already do deserve it because they have all been ranting for years about this and they were aware it was once again a pack of lies. Those of us who have been saying that will of course be ridiculed for being right.

Posted by: apishapa on December 3, 2007 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

My hunch says they decided not to attack Iran and releasing the NIE gives the cover they need to back away from all the tough guy talk.

Posted by: Quackers on December 3, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

Salmo -- McConnell said on Nov 13 that the NIE was in final draft and they hoped to have it finished by the end of the month. If that was accurate--and there's no reason to believe it wasn't--the draft would typically been accessibly to a relatively small number of people working on the final.

Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees undoubtedly could have requested a copy of the draft, and would have likely--and justifiably--been told by McConnell, "no, it's not done yet".

In short, it's likely that to date only a small number of people have seen the final. Which probably explains why, as Spencer Ackerman put it, Reyes (and likely with many others) "sounds like a man in the dark about the NIE".

Posted by: has407 on December 3, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

I still suspect we have a sizable chunk of the public who still beleive the lies. The next one is surely going to be about traitors in the IC. The axis if evil meme is still very much alive within the American people. Hopefully this demographic will be drowned by the 2008 tsunami.

Posted by: bigTom on December 3, 2007 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Does anybody think this could be Bush himself doing an end run on Cheney, to salvage the little that's left to his presidency -- or at least to his ability to "refill the ol' coffers" afterwards? I know it's hard to imagine him thinking something like that through on his own, but I'm just spitballin' here.

Posted by: Kenji on December 3, 2007 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

Mike McConnell confirmed on November 14 that he had no plans to publicly release any part of this NIE because "to do so could expose U.S. intelligence capabilities and enable Iran to change its practices."

So why does Mike McConnell hate America?

Posted by: MaryCh on December 4, 2007 at 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

Does anybody think this could be Bush himself doing an end run on Cheney, to salvage the little that's left to his presidency...?

As long as this is a thread about guessing -- yes, I think it's possible. Maybe not "Bush himself" though -- maybe Bush with his dad's people. Maybe he was finally convinced that with one year to go his presidency was getting deeper in the hole and he needed another approach. Which may also explain Rove's departure. And Cheney's recent fibrillations. And this story.

It's all possible. But probable? Wouldn't say so yet. Cheney has more lives than both of Kevin's cats together.

Posted by: JS on December 4, 2007 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, go back a few weeks and read the Iran stories. I believe that this country is working through back channels on some kind common ground with Iran. With the change at the JCS, slowing down of IED attacks, and the realization that Bush will be in Texas in 13 months, one can piece together a deescalation move with the two parties. One should not forget that Iran's President has his own economic worries also.

Posted by: james b on December 4, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

Bush and Cheney have known the contents of that NIE for awhile, yet they kept pounding the table and insisting that Iran represents an immediate threat, and that we should attack them with delay.
I wonder if any of the brave souls in our MSM will raise their hand and ask, "WTF?"

Posted by: global yokel on December 4, 2007 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Just saw this over at Matt Yglesias' blog:


Dated 6/18,2006 "Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

"But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said."
There is much more that is well worth reading. Instead, Cheney just had to go for broke for regime change, & lost the gamble. Damn these fuckwits, anyway!

Posted by: bob in fla on December 4, 2007 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Why was the NIE released this way? Two words: Fallon and Gates. Both have made it pretty clear that they're not on board with bombing sorties.

For context, check Gareth Porter's reporting on Iran going back at least a year and a half, and especially within the last few months.

Posted by: bc on December 4, 2007 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

As has been mentioned above, I really think this news shifts the focus to the Israelis. If the US is going to get involved in an attack, it's going to probably come on the heels of an Israeli attack or, perhaps most likely, in response to the Iranian response to an Israeli attack.

Cheney and Wurmser have been ruminating about this for some time, after all.

Posted by: bc on December 4, 2007 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if any of the brave souls in our MSM will raise their hand and ask, "WTF?"
Posted by: global yokel on December 4, 2007 at 1:21 AM


Posted by: corpus juris on December 4, 2007 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's because McConnell's approval ratings in his own state are pretty dismal, largely because of his fealty to Bush. He might be cutting Bush loose just to save his own hide.

Posted by: sullijan on December 4, 2007 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

I'd guess not bombing Iran to smitherines right now is where the defense department and the money boys meet eye to eye. Gates, Centcom, and the Joint Chiefs know we can't sustain another quick war where we'll be greeted as liberators, and the money boys are too nervous about the looming recession, banking /mortgage crisis, weak dollar problems to countenance pissing of the oil oligarchies. The idea that Congress had anything to do with it kind of makes me laugh, except that they are so impotent and useless in these matters, it makes me cry.

Posted by: allys gift on December 4, 2007 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

To expect Congress to have anything resembling a backbone is to except to much.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 4, 2007 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Well, here's veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern's take on the question:

Fact-Based Intelligence Prevails on Nukes and Iran
by Ray McGovern

... Curiously, McConnell indicated recently that the key findings of NIEs would no longer be made public. My guess is that the Pentagon, and especially Adm. William Fallon, commander of our forces in the Middle East, succeeded in persuading McConnell to go public. Several months ago, Fallon was reliably reported to have said, "We are not going to do Iran on my watch." And it is an open secret that he and other senior military officers, except those of the Air Force, are strongly opposed to getting into a war with Iran for which the U.S. is so ill prepared. ...

Of course McGovern, in addition to relaying most of the key NIE conclusions, is also quite careful to point out the following earlier in his review:

... it is not surprising that the NIE's authors make a point of saying up front (in bold type) "This NIE does not (italics in original) assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons." ...

Posted by: Poilu on December 4, 2007 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

For the love of Christ, what could Bush and/or Cheney possibly do that would spur Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to initiate impeachment proceedings?

First word: Starts with a "b"
Second word: Starts with a "j"

If with each other, even better!

Does Britney have panties yet?

Posted by: thersites on December 4, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

probably released by some American loyalists who HATE what is happening in this country and who are trying to STOP an obvious provocation and excuse for the US to unleash its own nuclear power on Iran.

Remember the SIX NUKES that mysteriously were shipped across country, apparently in readiness to be used probably to start shit with Iran? http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2007/09/report-air-forc.html

Well all personnel associated with BUSTING the administration for this are now DEAD http://joinordie.wordpress.com/2007/09/15/airman-that-supplied-security-for-the-6-missing-nukes-dead/

This is a fight for the LIFE of the REPUBLIC, people.

Posted by: getaclue on December 4, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

well, I notice that no one is talking about heir and successor Rudy G's little funds appropriation problem anymore, are they? how, um, convenient.

Posted by: northzax on December 4, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK
....Gates clearly is one of the few in that crowd that has any integrity, sense of history, duty or wisdom.....Don at 9:18 PM
Perhaps you should look up Gates and Iran-Contra

By releasing it in advance of it being leaked by some patriot, they are able to put their own spin to it.

Posted by: Mike on December 4, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

anyone noticed that the oil traders knew this info.
a bit ago, about the time oil started dropping from 100 per barrel.

Posted by: steve on December 3, 2007 at 11:21 PM

One could conceive of big oil money playing games with the commodities market and using saber-rattling to drum up the price and diplomacy-talk to cool it down with choice "friends" making a killing on the churn. Right now the only chance that the R's have in '08 is a stable economy and a relatively quiet (Mission Accomplished!) Iraq. An Iran attack would obviously derail both of those. If Israel turns around and does it first and drags us into it and ruins our economy, look for the AIPAC/PNAC crowd to have the last nail put in their coffin as a result.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 4, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

One thing that would change Bush's mind would be a flat refusal by the army to contemplate attacking Iran while losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush and Cheney knew that they could give the order, have it refused, and probably be impeached. Thus, they had to admit that they could not attack Iran and had better execute a swift strategic withdrawal. Of course, they are too corrupt to flat out admit that they lied and manipulated to end up in this idiotic position.

Posted by: nick on December 4, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK



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